My Kids Have Trouble Sleeping Away from Home: Holiday Travel Solutions

Anne-Marie Hays

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

Sleepy baby with text: my kids have trouble sleeping away from home holiday travel solutions

Only 53 percent of people stay home for the holidays, with the rest opting to spend time with family, friends, or on vacation. The same Mattress Advisor survey found that where you sleep affects the quantity of sleep you get. However, this survey sampled more than 1,000 adults. What happens when you throw kids into the mix? 

It isn't pretty.

"My baby won’t sleep away from home is by far the biggest fear I hear from other parents in regards to traveling with kids," shares travel blogger Stephanie Graves. With the holidays around the corner, this worry resurfaces for many families, especially parents planning trips to visit relatives. 

This is certainly a valid concern for families across the country. 

Certified pediatrician, Dr. Tanya Altmann "identifies sleep as one of the most important factors to a child’s (and a family’s) well-being, often determining sleep issues (which can be especially troublesome during holiday travel) to be the root of many concerns for children."

How much sleep do kids need?

Getting enough sleep is important for kids. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children need to spend quite a few more hours in dreamland than adults do. Here is the breakdown by age group: 

  • Newborns (0–3 months) — 14–17 hours
  • Infants (4–11 months) — 12–15 hours
  • Toddlers (1–2 years) — 11–14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3–5) — 10–13 hours 
  • School-age children (6–13) — 9–11 hours
  • Teenagers (14–17) — 8–10 hours
  • Younger adults (18–25) — 7–9 hours
  • Adults (26–64) — 7–9 hours
  • Older adults (65+) — 7–8 hours

At home, having different bedtimes for people of all ages is fairly easy to manage, but it's harder to do when staying away from home. Let's delve into this advice from travel and sleep experts that can help make a family holiday go as smoothly as possible, sleep-wise. 

Pre-trip planning, practice, and packing

There's lots you can do before your holiday travel to make the experience go more smoothly. 

Plan sleeping arrangements in advance

"Although it is possible that your baby won’t sleep as well as at home," says Graves, there are a few tips to help boost your chances this holiday season. 

When planning your travel arrangements, Graves suggests asking for an upgrade if you are staying at a hotel, "If a two-bedroom suite is available, jump on it! That way, the baby can sleep peacefully once the rest of the family returns. Or, if they are struggling in the night then not everyone has to have to suffer."

If you have a little one, she says to "Request a pack-n-play or crib in advance. You want to make sure they don’t run out, and then also have them assemble it for you." Having this accommodation for your baby or toddler ready can be one less thing to worry about. 

Evaluate your routines and practice 

Another useful strategy is to evaluate your sleep routines in advance of an upcoming trip. Patricia DeAngelis is a certified Sleep Sense™ consultant and founder of SleepGrace. She works with parents of babies, toddlers, and school-aged children to help them develop healthy sleep habits.

"In order to sleep well during the holidays when you are on-the-go," DeAngelis advises, "children and adults alike need independent sleep skills. They need the ability to fall asleep without any sleep prop such as the television or computer (for adults) or bottle-feeding, pacifier, rocking, etc. for children. When either children or adults do not have independent sleep skills, they struggle to sleep well anywhere other than where they are accustomed to."

How can you work on this before we have to head to the in-laws' house? 

"The best way to ensure quality sleep before a trip," says DeAngelis, "is to make sure your children are able to fall asleep independently and sleep 10–12 hours per night. If you have not sleep-trained your children, then choose one method and stick to it for a couple of weeks in advance of your trip. If you have tried to sleep train before and it has not worked, ask a pediatrician or sleep consultant to help diagnose your child's sleep situation."

Getting this professional advice in your planning phase, and following it, can help to improve the holiday experience for the whole family. 

Pack your comfies

"The more relaxed you are as a family, the easier it will be to sleep well while away," DeAngelis says. To help promote the feeling of relaxation, "Bring your favorite pajamas, blanket, and even a travel essential oil diffuser to create a comfortable environment that will help you and your children relax before bed." 

Sleeping on planes, trains, and automobiles

How far do you have to travel this year? If Grandma Betty lives down the street and you can enjoy eating seven of her famous gingerbread cookies and then sleeping off the sugar crash at home, consider yourself blessed. However, if you are planning to go over the river and through the woods and across state lines with the kids in tow, you might need to think about how your kids are going to fare, sleep- or nap-wise, both on the way to your destination and back home. Here are a couple of solutions that can help:

Flyaway kids' bed

Child sleeps on flyaway inflatable bed in airplane

Flyaway Kids Bed photo courtesy of Flyaway Designs.

This inflatable mattress from FlyawayDesigns works with economy class airline seats. It lets kids stretch their legs and sleep mid-flight. The product is accepted by more than 50 different airlines around the world and is easy to bring in your carry on.

Car seat ponchos

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents that buckling up in a car seat while wearing bulky coats and cold weather gear can be unsafe. So, what's the alternative? 

Birdy Boutique offers hooded blanket ponchos that allow for the carseat to be buckled underneath the poncho, while your little one stays warm and cozy. "Our hooded blanket ponchos are just that, plus kids can take them off and put them on with one hand! On the airplane or in the car, kids can snuggle up with them to feel safe and warm," says Joanna Jozwik Serra from Birdy Boutique. 

Handling the first night

You've reached your holiday destination, hopefully not too jet-lagged, and you are ready for beddy, but your family is still having trouble getting those sugar plums to dance in their heads. Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, a medical advisor at understands your stress.

In fact, she says, you are fighting ingrained survival instincts. She explains, "First, it is perfectly normal to have a restless sleep the first night in the new environment. There’s even a name for this: the first night effect. This effect is a survival mechanism. One of the two brain’s hemispheres remains active as it is in the waking state and watches for any dangers lurking around. It’s not conscious, and there’s not much to do to prevent this. Some people have it more prominently than others, especially those who have other sleep-disturbance conditions like sleep apnea, where deep sleep is already disrupted."

To help overpower this survival instinct, Dr. Velikova has some suggestions to fight first-night sleeplessness: 

  • Recreate your home environment — Try to have the light coming from the same direction as you have it at home. 
  • Make it peaceful — Make sure to block the noise coming from the outside of the room." 
  • Have as few changes as possible — Stick to your regular sleeping routine. Go to bed your usual time, perform the same bed-time ritual you usually do. Having as few changes as possible will help your brain get the signal that it’s time to sleep.
  • Bring your pillow — If possible, bring your pillow on the trip. Having your head positioned in the usual way may help you sleep better and adjust to the new environment more relaxed. 
  • Turn off blue light (from your screens) — Blue light emitted by displays such as tablets or phones can promote the creation of cortisol, a hormone that promotes wake state. It can get in the way of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and make falling asleep more difficult.

Stick to familiar routines as much as possible

Humans, young and old, like routines. We like to know what to expect and how to deal with things. Routines are a huge part of parenting, and that shouldn't stop just because you are away from home. 

Mealtime routines

Joselyne John, RN, is a certified sleep coach and a sleep expert for Online Mattress Review. She emphasizes the importance of keeping mealtimes routine, "It’s important to keep your kids on a set mealtime as well. While having happy, excited children is amazing, it’s not so great at midnight. Remember, the later they eat, the later you eat, and then the later you sleep."

Pre-bedtime routines

As Dr. Velikova mentioned, blue lights can affect our sleepiness. Certified pediatrician, Dr. Tanya Altmann agrees. She advises, "Avoid stimulating activities such as television, tablets, video games, and strenuous exercise an hour before bedtime as they can make it harder for a child to fall asleep.

Bedtime routines

"Try to keep the same bedtime routine as much as possible, such as bath, pajamas, book and bed," advises Dr. Altmann. "Limit the routine to 45 minutes and be consistent so your child knows what to expect and won’t keep asking for more." Graves suggests "evacuating" older kids during bedtime rituals for younger ones. She adds, "My husband and the older kids always use this opportunity to visit the resort hot tub while I lay the baby down." If they wouldn't normally be in the same room during your bedtime routine at home, it's probably best to keep it that way. 

Wakeup routines

"The best way to maintain healthy sleep during the holidays is to go to sleep and wake-up at the same time each day," DeAngelis advises. "By keeping your internal clock on a consistent schedule, your body knows when to expect sleep and will not be overtired. 

Naptime routines

"If you have a child under five years old," advises DeAngelis, "give them the opportunity to take a nap between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Naps help prevent children from getting overtired and may prevent fussiness or tantrums because they will wake up refreshed and ready to participate in more holiday activities through the evening." 

Daily exercise

"Make sure your child is active during the day, so they are tired at bedtime," says Altmann. "Not only is daily physical activity important for the brain and body, being active during the day will help kids fall asleep faster at night."

Adjusting your environment

One of the biggest issues for kids and parents alike is sleeping in a new environment. DeAngelis recommends bringing a few products to help make the adjustment to a new sleeping environment easier for the whole family. "A static sound machine and dark environment are two necessary ingredients for a restful sleep in general, but especially on vacation. The sound machine helps drown out minor noises that naturally occur when multiple people sleep in the same room and the darkness induces increased melatonin in the body, which aids the quality of sleep."

Her go-to noise machine is "the Dohm Sound Machine for adults and children alike."

As for creating a dark environment for melatonin release and easier sleep, she recommends "choosing a place to stay that has blackout curtains (like hotels) or swapping out regular curtains for blackout curtains." And for the wee ones under three years old that need more hours of sleep, she recommends the Snooze Shade. Compatible with all major portable crib brands, this shade is made of breathable mesh and helps your baby or toddler sleep while you can still follow your normal bedtime routine with older kids because the lights don't have to be off in your hotel room. 

If you've tried everything else

"If you’ve tried all of this and are still having challenges getting your child to fall asleep at night," Dr. Altmann advises parents, "talk to your pediatrician about a melatonin supplement like new Natrol Kids Melatonin, so you can be prepared for when bedtime is anything but routine."

"Use of melatonin supplements can help balance the naturally occurring melatonin levels in your body, establish normal sleep patterns, and help you maintain better overall health." Natrol's product is approved for kids ages four and up. 

We hope these suggestions will help you and your family get enough sleep and enjoy your time together this holiday season.

Seasons Greetings from BestCompany!

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